The article by Ms Rose Namayanja Nsereko, the Minister of Information and National Guidance titled “Government has registered victory in fighting corruption” (Daily Monitor, January 10, 2014) must be applauded and at the same time examined critically. So far, this article is the most comprehensive insight of the progress being made by the office of the Inspector General of Government, the statutory body assigned to fight corruption.
To add a more moderate voice to this rather glamorous account as depicted by the minister, Uganda is known for having some of the best laws in the region - whether laws against graft or those prohibitive laws against moral corruption, human liberties and so forth. When it comes to writing laws, Uganda has gone off its way to extract laws from Britain and from the United States without fear. Of recent, this country has been able to invoke a colonial law – that ensures preventive arrests on assumptions or prediction of potential breach.
The existence of many robust anti-corruption laws in Uganda is not an issue of contestation here. The major ingredient that Uganda lacks in the fight against corruption is the political will to reinforce those laws to their rational ends. In all aspects, the problems that afflict the fight against corruption are also the transformative as well as functional nature of corruption, it being used as a political tool.
Ugandans will not be deceived by romanticised statistics which glorify half a success story. While I am tempted to believe that all is rosy at the Ombudsman’s office as the minister portrays, reality checks may reveal another narrative - far from what the government is numbing our nerves with.
First, cases that have been easily disposed are those that affect the less important personalities who commit petty acts of corruption due to poor supervision. The government has deliberately failed to persecute those bigger political fishes whose fingers never leave public purses. And yet, the political class is the most corrupted class. This means the IGG’s office and the police have never had sufficient and real powers to reign in the politicians.
Second, corruption is the mediating mechanism of the regime upon which patronage and allegiances are negotiated. As a consequence, the cost of politics on public purse has become overwhelming at the expense of public service. The cost of public administration and the corruption which sustains it ensures that no public institution can claim to work independently and free of corruption.
Thirdly, government’s failure to prioritise funding for anti-corruption institutions and its inherent inability to accept good governance as a principled aspect of the fight against graft, illustrate their contempt for genuine anti-graft fight. Favouritism, cronyism, tribalism and the desire for life presidency, comes in handy to compromise any genuine efforts at fighting corruption. The police appear too incompetent to conduct thorough and timely forensic investigation targeting politicians, and even where they have the capacity; their efforts are often thwarted by political interferences from above.
It is, therefore, justifiable to assert that any successes in the fight against corruption cannot be celebrated when the small fish are the target, leaving the influential politicians and key decision makers to be protected by the status quo.
It is only logical that any victory in the fight against corruption should not be celebrated too soon; else we shall be throwing the baby out with the birth water. Corruption prevails precisely because of thriving inequities in resource distribution. The political class and the corrupted middle class have conspired to operate in the unofficial institutions which have deprived the public institution of resources and sanity. Public servants have resorted to abuse public service because it is not rewarding anymore, so they sit on their hands or abandon it all together for politics.
The injustice is distressful because the political elite expropriate larger shares of national resources to themselves while they mockingly implore the public servants and peasant farmers to adhere to patriotism rather than distributive justice and equitable society. Today, we hear common slogans like “tusaba gavumenti etuyambe” (we beg our government to help us), which signifies the increasing gap between the government and the common people.
People are increasingly distrustful of their government because of its corrupted ways. All they see as the face of this regime are wealthy politicians accumulating personal wealth, while the common man’s space is dwindling and his fate consigned to providence. Like Karl Marx would say, issues of economic production have become too stressful that religion and premier league have provided the fantasy of solace for the majority of disengaged Ugandans. The anti-corruption fight is one which is perceived as bully for the weak and toothless on the most corrupt.